Awardee: Sarah Helman
Department: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
After graduating from Boston University in 2006 (Biology, specialization in ecology & conservation biology), I went on to veterinary school at the University of Edinburgh (class of 2010), and worked as a small animal veterinarian in Queensland, Australia for 3 years. There my wildlife and Great Barrier Reef encounters sparked further interests in coastal ecosystems, and I decided to pursue zoonotic disease ecology to increase our knowledge of diseases affecting wildlife and human health. I am now conducting disease surveillance of marine and terrestrial mammals along the California coast, with results directly informing local wildlife, veterinary and public health agencies.
Local wildlife species are potential carriers of intestinal pathogens of zoonotic (e.g. Giardia and Cryptosporidium) and conservation (e.g. canine distemper virus) concern, so it is important for wildlife management agencies to estimate baseline levels of infection in these populations. I am working with wildlife and veterinary agencies to obtain samples from within and around urban Los Angeles, which I will use to test for multiple pathogens and parasites. This work will be paired with host genetics in a unique, multi-agency study, allowing for a preliminary assessment of how pathogen prevalences may be affected by levels of urbanization.